Sunday 11 December 2016

Two-speed recovery and health led to massacre at the ballot box

Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30

The big lesson for all the parties is that it isn't soaring house prices, access to childcare or water charges which drives voters to the ballot box. By far the most compelling issue in the mind of the electorate in this election was health.

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The RTÉ/Behaviour and Attitudes exit poll says that 20pc of the electorate cited the health service as the number one reason why they voted, followed closely behind by management of the economy at 18pc.

Surprisingly, water charges exercised the minds of just 8pc of voters, while childcare, house prices and the cost of renting and education barely registered.

Even traditional issues like crime only featured in the mind of 4pc of voters, despite the Regency Hotel gangland killing which occurred at the early stages of the campaign.

This suggests that the messages being relayed by the main parties over the course of the three-week campaign simply weren't hitting home. Whatever about the laudable need to invest in social housing, coupled with politically-popular pledges to cut the USC to give families more money in their pockets, the fact remains that nothing exercises the voter like hearing about sick and ill people not being able to access a hospital bed.

It has been a torrid election for the Fine Gael and Labour coalition, which throughout the campaign emphasised the economic recovery under way. Tax receipts are on the rise, unemployment has plummeted from a high of 15pc just three years ago to less than 9pc today and the economy is experiencing the highest growth rate in the EU at 7pc last year.

By any measure, it's an impressive performance, especially given the economic turmoil we have all endured in recent years.

But statistics are one thing. The fact is that the improving economy simply isn't resonating in the minds of the voters.

In fact the exit poll, which reflected the views of almost 4,300 voters across 223 polling stations in all 40 constituencies, suggests that while most people accept the economic climate is improving, it isn't having an impact on their personal finances.

Asked if they believed the country was better off today than a year ago, 46pc said yes, 35pc said it was the same and 19pc said it was worse off. Men tended to believe things were better than women, while rural voters were more likely to state the economy was in a worse-off state.

But when asked if they felt better off financially, it appears that although almost half of all voters believe the economy is improving, it isn't making a difference to their bank balance. Just 26pc said their personal finances had improved, while 26pc said they were worse.

The remainder said they were unchanged. Women and older voters were less inclined to believe their finances were in a better state than a year ago.

The poll reveals that the most pressing issues for men were the economy, health and stable government, in that order. For women, it was health, the economy and water charges, perhaps reflecting a concern about the household budget.

For younger voters aged 18-24, health, education and unemployment/jobs were the big issues. For the 25-34-year-olds, it was the economy, health and water charges.

For all other age categories, health and the economy were the most pressing concerns.

Irish politics is firmly rooted in the centre - where 0 means left wing, and 10 means right wing, some 54pc of voters classed themselves between 4 and 6, or right in the middle.

And an analysis of how first preference votes were transferred, carried out by the Independent.ie Data Science Team, suggests that while some voters wanted change, they didn't want it to be too radical.

Some 35pc of first preference votes for the Greens, Social Democrats and Renua went back to the Government parties.

To an extent, the real story of this election is the rise of the Independents and smaller parties. More than one in three voters cast their ballot in favour of these new political movements, and the poll suggests that Sinn Féin is hoovering up the youth vote.

The establishment parties face an enormous challenge in attracting back these voters. It will take more than election slogans to stop the march of the Independents and smaller parties. General Election 2016 may have been a shock to the system, but there may be more to come.

Irish Independent

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